Mar 7, 2015

Plainly wrong scientific theories

You know that thing where really really smart people can be clueless about something really really obvious to everyone else? Sure you do. Well, sometimes, really really smart people also go so far into the realm of theory that they come up with ideas that make a lot of sense to them, and can be backed up with all sorts of theoretical equations and logic, and which as a layperson, you try and understand and accept, but in the end you can't help but think, "Nah, I don't reckon."

Here are some examples of theories which I have decided, after long thought and using no science whatsoever, are completely wrong.

1. The Multiverse

The multiverse is a very cool, intriguing idea that everyone loves but it just doesn't stand up. The idea is that there are an infinite number of universes, with an infinite number of possibilities. Which immediately raises the stock response, that an infinite number of universes and possibilities must include one where the multiverse doesn't exist.  Plus, like, doesn't "the universe" mean "everything"? So if there are multiple universes aren't they all just part of "the universe"?

One of the theories around the multiverse is that the universe splits every time two or more possibilities exist. In simple (and probably wrong) terms, one example could be every time you make a decision. So if you turned down a job, or decided not to move to another country, then another universe exists where you accepted that job or moved to that country. Or another universe exists where JFK wasn't assassinated, Hitler drowned as a toddler, or the US didn't invade Iraq. You can see the immediate appeal of such a theory, and I don't think immensely clever theoretical physicists are any more immune to "what if" fantasies than the rest of us.

The problem with this idea is that it gets ridiculous pretty fast. More than one possibility exists all the time. So if I have cereal instead of toast this morning, or my cat jumps right instead of left, the universe splits and another me and another cat, pursue their different lives. And along with us, we take all our family members and furniture and casual acquaintances with us. But why? To what end? In the end this theory just doesn't make any sense.

In my favourite bit from Futurama (episode: I Dated A Robot), Fry travels to the edge of the universe and sees alternate versions of himself and his friends looking back at them.

Fry: Far out! So there really is an infinate number of universes?
Professor Farnsworth: No, just the two.

2. The Theory of Everything

Scientists have been searching for a unifying theory that will explain the universe and reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics, many convinced that such a single, unifying explanation of all things must exist. And what has been the best suggestion to date? String theory. The universe is made up of tiny vibrating strings and mini-universes. (I might have that a bit wrong).

I think this is a limitation of our brains - we love "truth in beauty", we love balance and harmony and we don't like loose ends. Is that a sign that the universe is the same? Or just a side effect of our wiring which has served us well in our evolutionary history?

Who says all the workings of the universe have to be unified? It's a natural assumption, and one I guess we all secretly believe (me as well). But actually it seems not to be the case. Why should it be the case? No one can really come up with a reason, other than appealing to logic and "elegance" or "beauty" which may really be things that our logical, orderly minds require more than actual physical laws.

I actually think that searching for a unifying theory of everything is the equivalent of believing in a God.

3. Quantum behaviour

OK, I might, just might, be wrong about this one. But I (like some scientists) have decided that the weird effects that are seen at the quantum level are more about a failure of our brains to perceive what's happening, than reality. Part of the reason I think this is because throughout history (and throughout my own education and growing up), every time an idea or phenomenon initially seems weird and awesomely magical and unknowable, it turns out to be actually very explainable and to make sense in a much more prosaic way than we imagined.  So I think quantum stuff will too. One day.

4. The idea that humans have unique cognition

Humans are - perhaps - different from other animals, but anyone who has or works with animals knows the differences are over-stated. Sure, laypeople anthropomorphise their pets' behaviour, and yes, humans have complex language and can conceptualise complex ideas like multi-verses. But do we really know that other animals don't do this as well, in their own way?  No we do not.

5. Climate Change

Ha ha, just kidding. Climate change is real, kids.


  1. I was reading an opinion piece on the ABC this morning and rather a lot of people will disagree with your point 5. Sigh.
    I am moderately comfortable with the concept that there is no unifying theory to explain everything. 42 is a reasonable answer to that one.
    Quantum mechanics makes my eyes and brain glaze over. I have no theories there. And survive reasonably well without them.

    1. My head actually literally aches when I try and truly understand this stuff.
      And yes, talkback radio is always a little depressing!

  2. Hi Jackie,

    I love these theories (being a bit of a geek), particularly the multiverse one. I love the possibility that there are many other Plastic Mancunians some of whom may actually be quite famous.

    My favourite multiverse corollary is time travel. I would love to be able to time travel. Come on scientists, get your act together and build me a time machine.




    1. I still love them too, and I don't really dismiss them as confidently as I make out here, because who knows? And I LOVE time travel, one of my very favourite concepts.

  3. All kinds of interesting theories .... but they are just that ..... theories. Fun to think about and ponder and maybe someday one of them will lead us to the truth.

    1. ...the truth which is probably something completely different!

  4. #1. Multiverse - may not make much sense but it makes for good sci-fi. Star Trek, Stargate, Fringe.
    #2. don't like loose ends? bad luck, the universe is full of them.
    #3. I know nothing about quantum anything. Quantity, now there's something I understand.
    #4. Humans have unique cognition. Yes. Unique to us. Dogs have unique cognition too. Unique to them ditto every other animal out there. We're not that special.
    #5. of course climate change exists. i have it right here in my living room. I can change my climate with the push of a button. The one that turns on the aircon. (*~*)



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